Starting a new job in a field I have little knowledge of is really testing my ability to adapt, which is making me think about life as an older person.
I think it’s a pretty common perception among younger people that as we get older we struggle more to learn new things. We might call it getting set in our ways or, less kindly, believe that older people no longer have the capability to change with the times. At the same time, we stress how important it is to keep challenging our aging brains so as to keep them active.
I wonder, though, if the fact that we take longer to assimilate new information as we get older, is due to us having a greater experience of just how complex most things are. At thirty we see the world as black and white, right and wrong. We look at the most up to date piece of data and we build our rules upon that, constantly adjusting as new pieces of data hit our consciousness. In some ways, we emulate robots by doing numerous incredibly fast revisions, reshaping the world every second. At sixty, we take a longer view and say, wow, over the course of each minute we need to make 60 revisions to the way the world is and that’s really complicated and I’m rather daunted by it. We can also tend to think that it is better to get to the end of the minute and act on the collected data rather than make all those micro-adjustments. It doesn’t mean that either of us, young or old, is less capable of getting to the same point, but it can look like older people are slow, or reluctant to learn.
Experience is something you only really come to value as you get older. Young people are still full of wonder and life is an adventure. They don’t want to know that everyone has done it all before. They do not want to face the idea that they are no more unique than anyone else.
I think we can all learn from each other. When a younger person has more knowledge or experience of a particular thing than you do, take advantage of it. When an older person throws in a hint of caution or wants to apply the brakes a bit, consider whether they are acting on their own experience and could have a valid point of view.
Always keep in mind that life is incredibly complex and it’s just not easy.